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Levies for mass transit, children deserve support

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Two days ago, The Vindicator urged voters in a half-dozen Mahoning Valley public school districts to support school-levy renewals at the polls this fall to stave off sabotage to their operating budgets.

But just as school districts cannot be expected to operate with significantly less revenue than they did four or five years ago, neither can publicly funded countywide service agencies. Two such Mahoning County agencies with solid reputations for quality service are making such pleas in this election.

Western Reserve Transit Authority, which provides a variety of mass-transit services in the county, seeks continuing renewal of its 0.25 percent sales tax, first approved by voters in 2008 and renewed easily in 2012. Mahoning County Children’s Services is seeking a 0.5-mill replacement levy for the tax issue voters first approved in 1983.

Both warrant “yes” votes at the polls.

The WRTA operates 21 fixed routes in the county six days per week as well as special services for people with disabilities, suburban loop routes for high-traffic areas in Boardman, Austintown and Canfield, plus on-call curb-to-curb pickup service for communities without regular daily routes.

In recent years, it has expanded its schedules and services. The authority, which drew some 1.5 million passenger rides in 2016, is a lifeline for thousands to ensure their mobility to places of employment or critically needed services.

Some of WRTA’s targeted ridership groups continue to increase. According to the 2017 Updated Coordinated Public Transit Human Service Plan prepared by Nelson Development Ltd. of Akron, the WRTA draws upon a base of 33,682 disabled adults in the county, 64,501 adults living in poverty and 9,152 adults without any access to a private vehicle.

A strong mass transit authority also enhances a community’s ability to attract viable economic development.

All of those assets are well worth Issue 4’s cost of one cent for every four dollars in purchases in the county. In addition, the loss of the approximately $8.5 million the sales tax provides WRTA would also result in the loss of millions in federal and state assistance.

What’s more, WRTA leaders have proved to be responsible stewards in their spending practices, having earlier this month received an award for another clean audit from the state auditor.

Five years ago, 68,671 county voters or 61 percent of the electorate saw the value in renewing the sales tax for WRTA. Given the growth in the transit authority’s outreach and services since then, we’re hopeful its margin of victory will be even larger this year.


Issue 3, the other Mahoning Countywide tax issue, would maintain the same 1983 millage but permit the Children Services Board to collect it at today’s property values, which would represent an increase of about $700,000 annually in revenue. That slight boost is greatly needed by Children’s Services to adequately respond to the opioid crisis that is devastating family life in the Valley, the state and the nation.

Earlier this year, the agency reported a 70 percent increase in the number of children placed in its custody over 2016 levels. With no end in sight to the heroin crisis, there also is no end in sight to vastly increased demands for CSB and its staff.

The opioid crisis has expanded and altered the way the agency does business. Ordinarily, it aims to protect kids, intervenes to keep them with their families and, as a last resort, tries to place children in permanent homes. The bulk of their services traditionally involves keeping children in their homes.

But as Randall Muth, executive director of Children Services, told county commissioners when placing the issue on the ballot earlier this year: “Heroin changes that. It’s almost never safe for kids to remain in the home.”

In addition, Muth said the agency is seeing an increased number of referrals and assessments due to the heroin crisis. Those assessments require CSB to provide services more frequently, and the children are less likely to return home with their parents.

Those factors are placing considerably more strain on the county’s No. 1 advocacy organization for its most precious and most vulnerable resource, its children.

As such, CSB and those children urgently need voter support Nov. 7.